The Role of the Artist

I was asked for class to consider the role of the artist as part of Continuing the Conversation: Arts in Education. Continuing the Conversation (CtC) provides opportunity and inspiration for substantive dialogue on the issues facing the arts in education community. Below, I've included my response. You can check out more of the conversation here.

My artistic production has always emerged from a place of marginalization. Indeed, the first poem I wrote was a critical examination of the treatment of indigent people in Hawai’i. When I began writing, I was surrounded by a painful silence regarding the sweeping of houseless people off our beaches in order to make room for the tourist industry. How could our hotels have rooms available for foreigners while so many local people were priced out of the housing market? How could the “aloha” spirit be leveraged to sell a destination while also displacing indigenous populations? These were the questions I struggled with as I began my journey as a writer.
While my initial work may have focused on advocacy for the silenced and marginalized, I have since supplemented my artistic production with an educational practice. The artists I idolized all made efforts to educate and organize with their communities to achieve social justice. This effort transcended my traditional conception of the arts and embodied an artistry of relationship building and cultural production. These artists celebrated life while decrying injustice. For me, the artist is an individual who can communicate the beauty and struggle inherent in life. Triumph and tragedy both are captured in my favorite works of art, be they visual or auditory, movement based or tactile. Or hip-hop.
The first artists I identified with were hip-hop artists, representing all the elements. Emcees, DJs, graffiti artists, b-boys and those who promulgated the knowledge necessary to sustain the culture. While the music that passes for “hip-hop” on the radio is increasingly disconnected from the lived experiences of its audience, real hip-hop is identified with the common person: marginalized, alienated and attempting to carve out a better life in an increasingly hostile environment. This is where I choose to create art from. I choose to create from a position that recognizes the beauty of daily life while embracing the struggle to survive. For me, the best artists exist in that intersection between the profound and the profane, criticizing oppressive structures while working with others to develop more humane ways of being in the world. And isn’t that an art in itself?